Friday, July 19, 2013

Mini Kentucky Hot Brown Appetizers

My husband and I are huge fans of the Kentucky Hot Brown.  We've tried numerous Hot Browns at different restaurants all over Lexington.  When we go out to eat, if there is a Hot Brown on the menu, chances are one or both of us orders it.  For those who aren't from Kentucky and may never heard of a Hot Brown, it's essentially an open-faced sandwich with turkey (and sometimes ham) smothered in Mornay sauce (a cheesy Béchamel) and topped with bacon and tomato slices before being baked or broiled.  Everyone does the Hot Brown a little differently... there is a local Pub that serves one made with fried chicken instead of turkey and it is TO DIE FOR.

The biggest variation between Hot Browns, from my experience, is the flavor of the Mornay which differs depending on which cheese(s) a particular chef uses in their sauce.  I have tried making a few different Mornay sauces at home and found a couple of them to be pretty bland.  Around my birthday I tried out a new to me recipe and finally found a keeper.  For us, a winning Mornay has a little extra pop of flavor beyond the cheese.  The sauce can be pretty mild, and downright bland, if not seasoned well.  We like ours with plenty of garlic salt, freshly ground pepper, and a hefty hint of cayenne and nutmeg.

These Mini Kentucky Hot Brown Appetizers are a delicious, two-bite indulgence for anyone who loves a good Hot Brown.  I served these up to guests during Dexter last Sunday and they were a hit.  The prepared phyllo shells make these a breeze to assemble.  The Mornay sauce can be made in advance and the tarts can be assembled and baked quickly for a great, low-maintenance appetizer.

I will say, for my husband and I, the extremely flaky, slightly floury taste of the phyllo shells detracted a tiny bit from these being the perfect miniature Hot Brown.  We'd prefer something a little more bread-y to better reflect the traditional Hot Brown.  I think these would be great adapted to top mini slices of baguette, but I actually have a fun idea for a version of these I want to try really soon.  I'll definitely be sharing that option here if they turn out as delicious as we're expecting.

Now that I have the perfect Mornay Sauce recipe, I see a lot of Hot Brown-inspired dishes in our future.

Mini Kentucky Hot Brown Appetizers
adapted slightly from The Courier-Journal
makes 30 mini appetizers

1 cup Mornay sauce, cold (see below for recipe)
1 cup roasted turkey breast, chopped fine (I used a rotisserie turkey breast)
1/2 cup tomato, diced
1/2 cup bacon bits
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Arrange tart shells on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet.  (Tart shells may be frozen or thawed, either is fine and won't affect the cooking time.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the mornay sauce, turkey breast, and tomatoes.  Using a tablespoon scoop, two spoons, or a pastry bag, carefully fill each tart shell with the Hot Brown filling.  Sprinkle each filled tart with approximately 1 teaspoon of bacon bits and a bit of Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the tarts and filling are heated through.  Let cool for a minute, then serve warm.

Mornay Sauce
adapted from The Food Network
yields approximately 1 cup of sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup freshly grated white cheddar cheese*
1/4 cup freshly grated Swiss cheese
garlic salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg (to taste)

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until most of the bubbling has dimished.  Whisk in the flour, cooking and whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes being careful to not let the roux brown (turn down the heat, if needed, to prevent browning).  Add the milk and whisk continually while bringing the mixture to a simmer.

Continue cooking the mixture, whisking often, until smooth and thick.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses until completely melted and combined.  Season with garlic salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg to taste (start with a little and add more to your liking - we like our Mornay sauce to be fairly well seasoned while others prefer theirs more mild.)  Let cool before proceeding with preparing the appetizers.

*It's important to use freshly grated cheese.  Packaged shredded cheese has additives to prevent clumping and in turn will hinder the cheese from melting smoothly in the sauce.  I also recommend spending a little more and buying a high quality cheddar and Swiss as the flavor really shines here.


  1. In the past, for hours douvres that require a more bread like base, I have taken a slice of good white bread and cut out a circle with a biscuit cutter (you can do many slices at once this way), then brush each round lightly with melted butter and then press it into a mini cupcake pan so it lines the sides and gets that cup shape. Simply brown these lightly in an oven, and they pop out as a perfect little cup for anything you wish to put inside. We have done this with tuna, or curried chicken salad, and both work beautifully. I think your little hot browns could work well with this type of base if you are looking for a bread like consistancy while still having a cupped shape. I have never heard of a hot brown until now, but I want to try this recipe!

  2. This looks delish! And perfect for our upcoming Derby Party :) Curious if you have tried this with Pillsbury Crescent rolls as the crust? I can't decide which way to make these!

    1. I haven't tried them with Crescent Rolls for the crust, but I did try this in mini bread bowls (using refrigerated French bread). That was AMAZING! I think hubby and I both agreed we enjoyed them more in the bread bowls. I will say, the mini phyllo shells made for a smaller, bite size treat, while the bread bowls were more hearty (the size of a regular muffin). I basically adapted this recipe, using the same filling that I shared here. Either way you make them, I'm sure they'll be a hit at your Derby party!


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